Harvard Law Professor Discusses Racial Nomenclature

by Jake Hawkins

Dr. Randall Kennedy, a professor at Harvard Law School, spoke Tuesday as part of the William R. Kenan Jr. Lecture Series.

His lecture, titled “Can We Talk? Problems in Race and Conversation” outlined the history of “racial nomenclature” and traced the terms used to define African-Americans starting in1790 with the use of the stand-alone term “African,” which progressed through the years to terms such as “people of color,” “colored,” “Afro-American,” “negro,” “African-American” and “black.”

Kennedy spoke in detail about the various controversies surrounding each term and offered his opinion as to why such controversies existed.

Kennedy also discussed his assertion that President Barack Obama avoids discussing race for electoral reasons, the recent use of the phrase “negro dialect” by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the release of an edition of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” where publishers put the word “slave” in place of nomenclature that many considered offensive.

(Editor’s Note: Throughout his lecture, Kennedy spoke in blunt language and defended the use of such words as purely academic. In that light, the editor decided to reprint most of those words in order to accurately portray the speech Kennedy gave.)


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